The wonders of biomimicry, and how the San Diego Zoo will use them to save the world

On occasion, my paid work for CityBeat overlaps with sujects that may be of interest to Oyster’s Garter readers. Last week I wrote about a new initiative being brought forward by the San Diego Zoo to tap its deep knowledge of animal behavior and ecology to help companies solve industrial problems in a greener way, and maybe make a few bucks for the zoo.  I’ll copy the first several paragraphs for you below, and then link to the whole story for those with further interest.

Copycat, and they’re fine with that

The wings of butterflies in the genus Morpho, resident in Central and South America, produce astonishing colors: spectacular iridescent blues, bright yellows in intricate patterns, greens and reds. The Morpho are all the more astonishing because they achieve these chromatic fireworks without any pigment at all. Their wings are made of tiny scales that reflect light in layers, creating the effects we see. While he was at MIT in 1994, then-undergraduate Mark Miles studied the butterfly, and he began to wonder if he could produce the same effect using hundreds of tiny mirrors. He soon founded a company, Iridigm Display Systems, to develop the concept. In 2004, Qualcomm bought Iridigm to use the mirror technology in its mobile devices, since the system uses half the energy of traditional screens. The technology, known as Mirasol, can be found in a few devices just now hitting the market. All because of a butterfly.

Here’s another one: The lotus plant never gets dirty. Rain water falls on it, but thanks to a series of tiny bumps on its leaves, the water runs off, carrying with it dirt particles that landed on the plant. A German company called StoCorp created Lotusan, a building coating that uses the same kind of tiny, water-shedding bumps. Buildings clad in Lotusan actually get cleaner every time it rains. Some 400,000 European buildings already wear it.

Neat, huh? OK, one more: In Australia, a company called BioPower wanted to design a new kind of wave-electricity generator. Traditional generators are harmful to sea life and not very efficient. BioPower looked to the tuna’s fin to capture horizontal wave motion and the sea fan (an invertebrate marine animal) to capture vertical wave motion, and they mimic the roots of kelp to anchor their device to the sea floor by mimicking the root system of kelp. By copying nature, they’re installing hundreds of small wave-motion generators that will hopefully bother the aquatic life a lot less.

“Nature has already done all the research and development for us,” said Dayna Baumeister to an audience on a warm June night at the San Diego Zoo. “And it’s all sustainable. There’s no waste in nature.”

Baumeister co-founded the Biomimicry Guild, a Montana-based nonprofit dedicated to helping companies find solutions to problems by copying nature. The zoo was hosting Baumeister to raise awareness of the idea of biomimicry, the notion that nature can provide answers to many of our most pressing problems, and do it in a sustainable way. The zoo is in the process of establishing a biomimicry unit, which would connect educational institutions and companies with the zoo’s vast collection of plants and animals, along with the zoos expertise. It’s early yet, but zoo chief financial officer Paula Brock sees biomimicry as both a way to help the world move toward a greener future and bring a different kind of green into the zoo’s coffers.

—- Go here for the rest of the story.

About these ads

3 Responses to The wonders of biomimicry, and how the San Diego Zoo will use them to save the world

  1. Jim Lemire says:

    Great piece and idea. I immediately thought of the texts by Steven Vogel, such as Cats’ Paws and Catapults

  2. […] The wonders of biomimicry, and how the San Diego Zoo can exploit it – Baumeister co-founded the Biomimicry Guild, a Montana-based nonprofit dedicated to helping companies find solutions to problems by copying nature. The zoo was hosting Baumeister to raise awareness of the idea of biomimicry, … […]

  3. Tory says:

    Almost sounds like something out of Jurrasic Park!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: